David Hirsh

To understand Labour antisemitism, we need the detail and the big picture

David Hirsh says that for many people the detail of the Corbynites' behaviour will be lost - so we need to make sure they understand the wider story

September 10, 2020 18:29

There's the forthcoming Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report; there's the 851 page document produced to exonerate the Corbynites; now there's the meticulously researched 10,000 word rebuttal of that document, written by John Ware.

Companies like BT and British Gas make their tariffs so complicated that nobody can compare their prices. In the end, they know, people will give up and go with the 'trusted brand'.

The Corbynites know that nobody is going to read these huge documents and they hope that people will believe in the document of the side that they trust.

The EHRC might not feel free to give an overview of the politics of the whole situation. I think they'll be tempted to stick to specific cases of clear discrimination. They'll say that this process did not work properly, that this official lied, that the other official was bullied and the result was that the whole Labour machine was not fit for purpose. They might say that the whole labour machine became institutionally antisemitic. But the danger is that the politics of the whole situation gets lost in the detail.

Why did the Labour Party machine suddenly become institutionally antisemitic between 2015 and 2019? Here's the big story.

The Corbyn faction was not just left wing, it was a specific kind of left. It embraced the populist notion that liberal and democratic politics is nothing but a cover for capitalist and imperialist exploitation. Society is dominated by a ‘liberal elite’, it said, which pretends to be egalitarian but which quietly runs everything only in its own selfish interest; it is the ‘enemy of the people’.

When you designate the ‘enemy of the people’ as liberal, metropolitan, cosmopolitan, educated, exploitative and unproductive, then the temptation to picture that enemy as Jewish, to rediscover antisemitic tropes that are available in the cultural unconscious, is great. Antidemocratic politics opens a movement up to antisemitism.

But this left is built on a foundation of antifascism and antiracism. How could it possibly be open to such a fascist and racist way of imagining the enemy? It can do so via Israel.

This left tradition recognises Israelis not as Jews who had survived and learnt how to defend themselves, but as anti-Jews. The Jews loved by the left are oppressed, stateless, and powerless. They are made good, wise and sardonic by their suffering. But, thinks this left, Zionists were perverted by their oppression. They saved themselves by putting Muslims into the firing line in their place. They became vulgar, macho, Americanized, Trumpy Jews, fake-liberal and fake-democratic. This is how actually existing Jews come to be imagined as all that is wrong in the world. Antizionism is no longer about the conflict between the Israelis and their neighbours, it becomes a whole populist worldview.

So Corbyn came to power in Labour. For him it was deep common sense that democratic states were the global menace and that Israel was symbolic of that menace; and that any movement calling itself anti-imperialist was on the side of the good. Hundreds of thousands of people in Britain had been in and around the revolutionary left in their youth. Many came alive again and they came into the party; or they shouted for Corbyn online. And whole waves of cranks who had more in common with Piers than with Jeremy also came. Some people came in with a fresh democratic spirit, but that spirit turned out to be less contagious than the deadening Stalinist dogma which was already strong there.

It was the penetration of political antisemitism on the British left, and its embodiment in Corbyn himself, which led to the arcane and detailed stories which are now emerging about what happened deep within the Labour machine.

The 850 page document says that Corbyn tried to fight antisemitism but his ‘Blairite’ and ‘Zionist’ enemies within the party sabotaged him, to make him look bad. But why was there a problem of antisemitism in the first place? When Corbyn had admitted there were ‘pockets of antisemitism’ in the party, Jews responded with the meme: ‘You are the pocket’.

The German right explained its defeat in the Great War by accusing social democrats and Jews of sabotage. It said Germany would have won but that it had been stabbed in the back by alien forces pretending to be Germans, behind its own lines.

The Corbynites have created a ‘stab in the back myth’ of their own. If it had not been for Zionists and liberals behind the Labour lines, Corbyn would now be PM.

This response is not just a historical explanation it is also a threat. It promises that next time the left will strike first against enemies within. There are cadres of people on the British left who are now convinced that between us and socialism stands Zionism.

September 10, 2020 18:29

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